The Little Mermaid is an iconic figure on the waterfront of Copenhagen, a bronze statue sculpted by Edvard Erikson. Inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale, it was installed on next to the anchored ships at Langelinie Pier in 1913. But this innocent nude sculpture has had a very turbulent history, full of beheadings, colour changes and hacksaw attacks.
Let’s find out all about the Little Mermaid’s crazy past, and why this poor statue has been the target of so much vandalism.
Construction of the Little Mermaid Statue
The Little Mermaid was first published in 1837 by Danish author Hans Christian Anderson. To commemorate the birthplace of the classic fairytale, a statue of her likeness was commissioned in 1909 by Carl Jacobson, son of the founder of Carlsberg beer.
The face was modelled after Ellen Price, a ballerina from the Copenhagen Royal Theatre, and the body was modelled after Eline Erikson, the sculptor’s wife. The result was 175kg of bronze, 1.25 metres high. The statue was installed on a rock at the Langelinie pier, and has been a popular tourist attraction ever since.
Vandalism of the Little Mermaid Statue
For the first half-century, the statue was allowed to watch the ships enter the harbour peacefully. In 1963, she was first covered in paint. But there was worse to come! As the BBC reported, she has been a target for vandals ever since.
But in 1964, the first major vandalism attack occurred. Her head was sawn off by political activists, and it was never recovered. A new head was sculpted, and reattached. In 1984, two young men on a drunken night out took a hacksaw to the Little Mermaid, removing part of her arm. Ashamed, they returned the piece two days later. In 1990, a failed decapitation event nearly took her head off again, leaving an 18cm cut in the neck.
Unfortunately, in 1998, the statue’s head was successfully stolen. Murder detectives were given the case, who quickly tracked it down to the Radical Feminist Fraction, but then dismissed as suspects. The head was returned in soon afterwards to a local TV station. In 2003, the statue was blown up. She was found floating in the harbour, blown off her pedestal by anti-Iraq war protestors. Her wrist and knee were severely damaged.
That was the last time she was severely damaged. These days, it’s mostly been paint attacks and other creative vandalism. 2006 saw a dildo attached to her hand, with a dumping of green paint. In 2007, she was covered in paint twice; once in red to protest whaling, and once in white and blue, with the mysterious words ‘Befri Abdulle’. On January 2020, the words ‘Free Hong Kong’ were painted on the plinth.
Stopping attacks on the Little Mermaid
The city will likely be installing CCTV soon, to try and reduce the number of attacks on the statue. Will it deter vandals, who use the city’s statue as a medium for protest? Only time will tell…
The Little Mermaid isn’t the only artwork to suffer at the hands of vandals. Check out my insight into Rembrandt’s The Night Watch!